"I give myself 24 hours to mourn a failure. When something fails, I wallow in it for a day. And then I move on. I never let it stay with me for more than a day. But I give it its one day."
A few of my Principles for Innovating are more popular than others.
When I give a talk on those principles, the first six are received with a lot of enthusiasm, which is to be expected, because they're all about design thinking, always an empowering subject. People who get excited about principles seven through twelve tend to be in management positions, because that collection deals with innovating from a manager's point of view. Principles fifteen through eighteen make organizational design aficionados salivate, and nineteen and twenty always make me want to cheer when I talk through them. I love nineteen and twenty.
Principles thirteen and fourteen are really bummers. I hate talking about them. They suck the energy out of the room. In fact, when it comes to that contagious buzz and energy you get when things are going well in a talk (for both presenter and audience), Principle 13 is nothing if not a black hole. "You will fail," it says.
There's a reason it's sitting at that number.
You will fail. That's the reality of trying to bring new things to life. You will fail, and may fail over and over and over. You may never suceed, actually. But, some folks are able to take that failure and get to the mantra of Principle 14, which is Failure Sucks, But Instructs. Today's New York Times has a wonderful article titled "Following Your Bliss, Right Off the Cliff", which examines the failures and recoveries of several entrepreneurs, including my friend and d.school colleague Michael Dearing.
Here's an excerpt from the article. It talks about Michael's experience with a shoe retailing startup which ended up going out of business:
He struggled to keep the business afloat because, he said, it felt dishonorable to let it go. “I personalized the outcome to a degree that it was unhealthy,” he said. “I thought failure was total and permanent — and success stamped me as a worthwhile business person.”
...Mr. Dearing liquidated his business in what he called an “excruciating” time. He turned to eBay to sell shoes, cash registers, delivery trucks and warehouse equipment to repay creditors and pay his employees’ severance. “I was dead broke,” he said. “This was probably one of the hardest times, deciding whether I was going to buy food for my animals or dinner for me.”
...“I thought I had one shot to be successful,” he said. “I had no idea that my career — or anybody’s career — is actually a multiround process and that you had many, many at-bats.”
...Mr. Dearing would approve. He tells his students that the “suffering comes from being attached to the outcomes.”
As paradoxical as it sounds, he said, “If you stop worrying about the outcomes, you will achieve a better outcome.”
Let's read that last one again: "If you stop worrying about the outcomes, you will achieve a better outcome."
What a profound statement from Michael, and it works on so many levels. When you stop worrying about the outcome, you let go of the fear of ultimate, soul-crushing failure, which in turn allows you to focus on the here and now. Being in the moment is what allows you to see and hear clearly to what life is telling you. That feedback helps you understand the true nature of what is going on with your new venture, and leads to better decision making. Being freed from fear not only adds a few points of IQ to your total, but it gives you the courage to run that test, to build that prototype -- today. Taking action now and failing on a smaller level each day, while listening to the resulting feedback coming your way, ends up giving you a much better chance of succeeding in the end than if you ignore those small doses of daily feeback.
Michael's advice is a very Obi-Wan Kenobi feel-the-force-flow-through-you-Luke kind of thing, but it really does work. It's also the hardest thing for would-be innovators to do. In my experience, you learn how to stop worrying about the outcomes by building up the mileage that only comes by shipping stuff. The more you ship, the better you get, and the better the odds become of the outcome being great.
This isn't one of those posts where a parent brags about their kid. I do think she's pretty special, but I'm not going to go there today. However, my daughter said something this morning which I think really nails an elemental truth about what it means to go through life with an open mind, hungry to grow and learn.
This morning my daughter and I arrived a little early at her nursery school, so we sat down together on the floor of its library and read a book together while we waited for her classroom to be ready for a new day of play and learning. Being there with her is always a highlight of my day.
We selected a picture book told in the voice of a grandmother telling her grandchild about what the child's father was like as a baby and young child. Some of the illustrations showed a kid being happy, some frustrated, some sad, some hungry, and one was about being afraid.
Upon seeing that last one, my daughter said, "It's okay to be a little afraid, it just means you're about to learn something." I teared up there for a second or two. And then I thought about Czikszentmihalyi and flow theory and what it means to live a life of meaning: if we're engaging with things a little beyond our current abilities, we're learning and growing.
It's okay to be a little afraid. I think she's right, no?
Earlier this week Virginia Postrel published a great Bloomberg article titled Why Silicon Valley is Winning the Robocar Race. It's a provocative look at what's happening at the intersection of digital technologies and cars, and it also serves up a heap of great insights as to why Silicon Valley works the way it does. In it Virginia quotes digital big thinker and doer Brad Templeton, Stanford Revs Automotive Research Program Executive Director Reilly Brennan, and yours truly.
I really like the following passage:
The world of software -- Google’s world -- also produces a different mindset from the world of traditional car manufacturing. “Software companies have an amazing ability to release something un-perfect and slowly work their way up,” says Brennan, the executive director at Revs. Consumers anticipate progress, making early adopters more tolerant of flaws and shortcomings.
Of course, early automobile adopters were also tolerant. Silicon Valley is where Detroit was in the 1920s or ’30s, when cars were the newly indispensable technology. Its critics are culturally marginal, while its products remain touchstones of prosperity and progress. It’s only lightly regulated. Silicon Valley’s ever-optimistic innovators assume that if they’re doing something cool and important, nobody will seriously try to stop them. That cultural confidence -- or outright cockiness -- is as crucial as any particular technology to delivering on the decades-old promise of self-driving cars.
I also love her use of "robocars" instead of the usual "autonomous cars" phrase. It's sounds so much more sexy and interesting. It's like saying "sushi" instead of "cold, dead fish", and I heartily encourage all of us to adopt it in lieu of the other one.
In the article I'm quoted as stating that even in the new Porsche GT3, "the entire experience is mediated by computers", ergo the title of this blog post. The reason I said this is that with the new GT3, the steering, the suspension, the transmission, even the alignment of the rear wheels are all guided by computers. The computers aren't driving the car, but they do help you drive the car, to give you the ultimate Porsche driving experience, even if you're no Jeff Zwart when it comes to driving prowess. If you're interested in learning more about the new GT3 and how its systems work, please check out the following video featuring GT3 product manager Andreas Preuninger:
Note well, product managers: Preuninger gives one helluva great product demo. If you can't talk with this level of passion and insight about your product's raison d'etre, you have to find a way to make that happen. Either make your product more exciting, or get more excited about it, or both! Excited product managers correlate very highly with amazing product experiences, and are likely even causal in achieving that outcome.
As an aside, I borrowed the image at the top of this post is from Virginia's article, and it comes from a 1930 Saturday Evening Post advertisement. It depicts an engineer of the future controling an automated highway system of some sort. Doesn't his control dial look a lot like a Nest thermostat?
How do you recover from failure, if at all? Two of my principles for innovating deal directly with the reality of failing:
If you're trying to push for a better world, you will fail along the way. The question is, how do you learn from that failure? At a personal level? As an organization? As a society?
Allan Savory gave a stunning talk earlier this month at TED where he described his personal quest to build success on top of a monumental failure he experienced relatively early in his life. Here's an explanation of of that failure, in his own words:
When I was a young man, a young biologist in Africa, I was involved in setting aside marvelous areas as future national parks. Now no sooner — this was in the 1950s — and no sooner did we remove the hunting, drum-beating people to protect the animals, then the land began to deteriorate, as you see in this park that we formed. Now, no livestock were involved, but suspecting that we had too many elephants now, I did the research and I proved we had too many, and I recommended that we would have to reduce their numbers and bring them down to a level that the land could sustain.
Now, that was a terrible decision for me to have to make, and it was political dynamite, frankly. So our government formed a team of experts to evaluate my research. They did. They agreed with me, and over the following years, we shot 40,000 elephants to try to stop the damage. And it got worse, not better.
Loving elephants as I do, that was the saddest and greatest blunder of my life, and I will carry that to my grave. One good thing did come out of it. It made me absolutely determined to devote my life to finding solutions.
I'll leave it to you to listen to the way that Allan Savory learned from his failure and created long-term success from what he learned.
I can see several of my principles for innovating at work in Savory's work. First, he is a keen observer of landscapes through time. He learns by doing, and finds inspiration in facts experienced in the first person. That is Principle One at work.
Second, he understands that you can learn your biggest life lessons when things go horribly wrong. This is Raney's Corollary at work, that you only learn when things start breaking. Avoiding failure at all costs leads to paralysis and nothing ever ventured, but ignoring failures when they happen leads to self-deception and ventures attenuated. You'll never really reach remarkable if you ignore negative data flowing your way -- listening to negative feedback is what gives you the basis for a smart pivot. As you can hear above, Savory has fully embraced the hard lessons of a decisions which resulted in the needless destruction of thousands of elephants. He now uses the wisdom gained to drive his quest to find out the root causal mechanisms behind desertification.
Third, Savory's story is that of an innovator who understands the power of going back to first principles. As any physicist or mathematician knows, when you go back and look -- really look -- at the immutable contraints and rivers behind a situation, you are apt to make connections about true causality which are impossible to reach for folks dealing only at a symptomatic layer of information. Being able to step back and look deeply at a situation in order to perceive its essence is a core talent of great innovators. And it can be cultivated, I believe. It's what kids do quite naturally. A return to beginner's mind is what helped Allan Savory create this remarkable process innovation, which I hope will save not just many elephants through time, but entire ecosystems.
Never underestimate the value of being honest -- deeply honest -- when you're working as part of a team.
Learning to express what you're thinking in a truthful but respectful way is a foundational skill for people who work with others to bring cool stuff to life. Which I believe means pretty much all of us. Too little honesty and you'll have a pleasant working atmosphere but end up shipping something mediocre or just plain wrong; too much honesty and you won't ship anything at all, because the team will dissolve before your very eyes. Being honest without coming across as a blunt jerk will win you friends, help you ship amazing things, and probably get you promoted, too. We can all get better at this -- it's a life journey kind of thing.
How dear to my heart, then, is this amazingly disarming statement coined by the late Harry Weathersby Stamps, who was a professor at Gulf Coast Community College. It's meant to be lobbed when you need your audience to be absolutely clear that you are about to speak from the heart:
"I am not running for political office or trying to get married"
Is that amazing, or what? Try it out in your next project status review session, and let me know how it goes.
Harry Weathersby Stamps, pictured above, passed away this past Saturday. It's well worth your while to read his charming obituary, which is American prose at its best.
Last week I was fortunate to participate in the TED conference in Long Beach. I learned a ton and it sparked a lot of new thoughts for me, which I will be writing about here on the pages of metacool for the next few weeks.
One of my favorite moments was this talk by education innovator Dr. Sugata Mitra. It's his acceptance speech for this year's TED Prize. From the standpoint of technique, I admire it for his masterful interweaving of humor, information, and narrative; for those interested in the art of public speaking, it's a master class.
Of course, he didn't win the prize for being able to give a good speech, he won it for what he's accomplished and for his vision going forward, and I'll allow you to learn about those via his own words here:
Here's a particularly thought-provoking section of Mitra's talk:
Well, I bumped into this whole thing completely by accident. I used to teach people how to write computer programs in New Delhi, 14 years ago. And right next to where I used to work, there was a slum. And I used to think, how on Earth are those kids ever going to learn to write computer programs? Or should they not? At the same time, we also had lots of parents, rich people, who had computers, and who used to tell me, "You know, my son, I think he's gifted, because he does wonderful things with computers. And my daughter -- oh, surely she is extra-intelligent." And so on.
So I suddenly figured that, how come all the rich people are having these extraordinarily gifted children? What did the poor do wrong? I made a hole in the boundary wall of the slum next to my office, and stuck a computer inside it just to see what would happen if I gave a computer to children who never would have one, didn't know any English, didn't know what the Internet was.
The children came running in. It was three feet off the ground, and they said, "What is this?"
And I said, "Yeah, it's... I don't know."
They said, "Why have you put it there?"
I said, "Just like that."
And they said, "Can we touch it?"
I said, "If you wish to."
And I went away.
About eight hours later, we found them browsing and teaching each other how to browse. So I said, "Well that's impossible, because -- How is it possible? They don't know anything."
Of course, those kids knew "something" because they were willing to mess around with a computer and fail until they knew how to make it work. Kids are ever open and curious. They learned by doing.
What's striking about Dr. Mitra's life journey and his ensuring discoveries is that he's so deeply rooted in experiencing the world instead of talking about experiencing the world. He is an expert on education, but is no mere theorizer. He is a doer. He had a hunch, and acted upon it by putting a computer in a hole in the wall. He learned something from that experiment, and kept on trying new stuff. Never just theorizing, always learning by doing.
If my time at IDEO has taught me anything, it's that a creative environment need not be toxic, caustic, or unnecessarily stressful. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite: if you want people to do great work together, just treat them like competent, intelligent, well-intentioned human beings, and then diligently cultivate the elements of dignity, joy, and achievement which generate a satisfying inner worklife. People who are feeling beautiful on the inside do beautiful things out in the world.
My fear for all those people reading Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs is that they assume that being an asshole and exociating people within an inch of their life is the key to achieving greatness as a leader of creative endeavors. To be sure, there's nothing wrong with being demanding and maintaining the highest standards, but when one considers the totality of what one is trying to create in the world, and not just that thing you're working so hard to ship, there's so much more to reckon with: What's the culture you're creating? How will people relate to their families when they go home in the evening? Will people regret any of the things they had to do to meet the standards you established as being non-negotiable? Ultimately, what's the price to be paid for being inhumane along the way? Does the end ever justify the means?
This past November I very fortunate to spend time with Chris Bangle during his visit to Stanford. I deeply admire the work Chris led at BMW and FIAT; I'm fortunate to drive one of his cars and I spend a lot of spare cycles oggling other ones I see on the street. They're gorgeous, passionate sculptures, and you can't help but feel the strong point of view driving their designs.
He gave a helluva great talk about designing for difference, which you can see in the video below. We talked through myriad topics in our Q&A session after this presentation, but related to the themes I mention above, I'd like to point you to the response Chris gave to my final question, "Speaking about design, where do you want to go?". Chris stood up and said something very profound, starting with an Italian saying he's heard from the farmers in his village:
The fox is pretty because the fox has a pretty tail.
You can hear all of our exchange starting at around the one hour two minute mark. Please listen to all of his statement from that point on -- it's an elegant riposte to the idea that one must be brutal to create things which are beautiful:
We create things which are beautiful by making the process of creation beautiful for everyone involved. The fox is pretty because the fox has a pretty tail.
Today is National Girl Scout Cookie Day. I used to not know much about the Girl Scouts, but my wife recently started a troop, and this has given me the opportunity to learn a bunch about this remarkable organization. In particular, I've become really interested in the role of the fabled Girl Scout Cookie in the flow of the Girl Scouts organization, whose misson is to build "...girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place."
From a purely financial point of view, sales of cookies help fund troop activities. A percentage of sales go back to each troop, so the more boxes are sold, the more money a group of girls has to engage in activities in pursuit of the Girl Scout mission. Selling cookies is a fundraising activity.
Of course, it's about much more than money. There's a lot of potential learning to be had. The Huff Post recently published an awesome essay written by Girl Scout Olivia Ottenfeld on that point, and here's an excerpt:
...the Girl Scout Cookie Program is not really about the cookies, but about all of the life skills girls learn as part of the program. Many people don't really understand that. That's why we're launching National Girl Scout Cookie Day on February 8...
...There are so many positive values I'm learning from selling cookies. There is no limit to what a girl can do: undertaking a service project to help make a difference in her community, exploring new challenges by kayaking in a nearby lake, or broadening her horizons by traveling to another state, or even another country. When I hit the business world after college, I will fear nothing.
So, people of the universe engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, I have a simple ask of you. And I'm not asking you to buy cookies (only do that if you really want to eat them). Instead, I'd like to ask you to pause and engage in mindful conversation with the next Girl Scout who approaches you to buy cookies. When you're asked to purchase cookies over the next few weeks, consider treating that query as a valuable learning opportunity for those cookie sellers.
Whether or not you buy cookies, you can choose to have a quality interaction with that girl by asking her about the project and what she's hoping to get out of it. For younger girls, ask how many she's hoping to sell, what her troop hopes to do with the money, etc... for an older girl, ask her about her marketing plan, how sales are going relative to that plan, how things compare to previous years, how is the Fiscal Cliff impacting cookie sales this year, if at all, up to and including what she's dreaming of for her future. By doing so, you'll help her learn some of the key lessions (including how to deal with rejection) articulated so well above by Olivia Ottenfeld.
Here's a great video which builds on these ideas:
Opportunities to frame one's character and worldview as that of a creator, builder, and entrepreneur need not happen solely in a classroom, not can they. They happen just as well on a playing field, at the keyboard of a piano, or out selling cookies to benefit your fellow scouts. Please consider being part of that learning journey, and positively influencing a girl's life forever.
I'll take a few boxes of Tagalongs, please!
Last week I attended the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. It's like the CES of food, with over 1,300 exhibitors from 35 countries showing 80,000 products to over 17,000 attendees. If that sounds like a recipe for something big and overwhelming, well, you'd be right -- after seven hours walking the floor (even with two espressos and a bunch of bacon chocolate in me), I was ready to cry uncle. But don't get me wrong -- it was really a cool experience!
Thing is, I am not a fancy food aficionado, nor am I an expert on anything concerning the food industry. To be sure, my employer IDEO does significant work across the domains of food, nutrition, beverages, water, and wellness, but I'm not directly involved with much of that work. So why did I take a valuable weekend day to attend this show? Well, the answer is twofold. First, I wanted to gain more empathy for my colleagues who care very deeply about this stuff; I want to really understand their passion for food.
Second, immersing yourself in new places, situations and experiences is how you become and stay an innovative soul. I'm a strong believer in taking a stroll through pastures far flung from those one naturally gravitates to. It's not hard to convince me to attend gatherings focused on networks of things, robotics, software, or Porsches. But, if I only ever pay attention to those types of events, my ability to see patterns or make breakthrough associations across unconnected worlds will diminish over time. If creativity is about making connections between seemingly unrelated things, then living in a bubble (or even a handful of bubbles) becomes a limiting factor on the heights your imagination can reach. If you're engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, you owe it to yourself to expose your brain to an ever more diverse set of inputs and experiences.
How? I always think of a point made by -- I think by Buckminster Fuller, I'm not really sure? -- which in essence said that, to enlarge one's scope of awareness, one should always buy the magazine located in the upper right corner of a newstand. Doing so ensures that you are always exploring an area you don't know anything about. In 2013 terms, I think this means following random (but interesting) folks on Twitter, letting your eyes run wild on Instagram, and going to things like the Fancy Food Show. If you only follow people you know and like on Twitter, how will you ever hear about anything that doesn't make sense to your current worldview?
What did I learn at the Fancy Food Show? I'm not sure yet, to be honest. I did experience some, ahem, interesting branding choices, such as a breakfast cereal called Holy Crap. Aside from those unexpected jolts to my sense of right and wrong and good taste in the universe ("...I wonder how they came up with that?" was a common refrain in my brain), I didn't have an earth-shattering moment. Yet. And that's the point. It may be a year, five years down the road where some synapses fire and what I saw last week makes a difference. That's what living at the intersection is all about.
So, what next for this year? I'm planning to have several wilder kinesthetic experiences this year, such as a rally driving school, because I think they're even stickier than a purely intellectual experience, and so have a greater chance of really knocking your hat in the creek, innovation-wise. In that same vein, I'd really like to run a Zero One Odysseys adventure sometime soon. And I'll also be trying to attend some technology conferences I've never been to, and I'm going to visit a couple of places I've never been before. Who knows what I'll learn!
How will you try living at the intersection this year?
I'm very happy to be interviewing Chris Bangle onstage next week as part of an Open Garage series event at the Stanford Revs Program. Our discussion will focus on the topic of "Designing for Difference in a World of Sameness". I have nothing but respect for what Chris did at Fiat, BMW, Mini and beyond. He knows what it means to believe passionately in a set of ideas, and to bring forth change to create something new in the world as an embodiment of those ideas.
The car I drive is a sculpture created by Chris and team, so you can imagine how stoked (and honored) I am to be having this discussion with him.
I'd love to hear what kinds of questions you'd like me to ask Chris -- please leave a comment below with your ideas, and I'll use them as input and inspiration for our talk. Thank you!
When we last checked in on this intrepid crew, they had just finished an epic all-night push to repair their mangled car. They then took their place on the starting grid at the 1000 miles of the Petit Le Mans, and had a flawless race, finishing an incredible fifth place (as the head of Nissan remarked, likely the most celebrated fifth place in the history of racing). The drivers drove with speedy care and finess, the work of the engineers endured through the long hours, and the mechanics and support team all did their part along the way. Though racing always centers on the drivers, it's a team sport of team sports, and when it comes to actually running the race - executing the vision, in other words - the team cook and physical trainer are as important as the head engineer and lead mechanic.
Here's a nice recap of the team's race experience:
Innovating isn't just about killer ideas or designs. To say that you've truly innovated, you first need to ship something, which means embodying your ideas in a form which can influence the lives of others. And then you to achieve impact at scale, which requires meticulous execution of the total business system surrounding your innovation. Innovation is nothing without experiencing the crucible of having to ship, and the discipline of executing at a level commensurate with the potential you envisioned in the first place.
They payoff to doing what other people said say you cannot do? Just listen to Ben Bowlby's voice in the video clip above, and then remember his joyous expression. Priceless.
As a boy growing up in Boulder, I attended a wonderful school named Burke Elementary. An amazing place, staffed with passionate, dedicated teachers, and named for a great American, Admiral Arleigh Burke. Admiral Burke used to visit our school once a year, and he made a big impression on me. Why? Because he was kind and attentive to us kids, but also because his nickname was "31-knot Burke". That caught my attention! Here's where Burke's moniker came from, per Wikipedia:
He usually pushed his destroyers to just under boiler-bursting speed, but while en route to a rendezvous prior to the Battle of Cape St. George a boiler casualty to USS Spence (a jammed boiler tube brush used for cleaning) limited his squadron to 31 knots, rather than the 34+ they were otherwise capable of. Thereafter, his nickname was "31-knot Burke," originally a taunt, later a popular symbol of his hard-charging nature.
That idea of charging ahead, going that extra distance in order to make things happen, really struck a chord with me. You can call it "hurdling", as my colleague Tom Kelly does in The Ten Faces of Innovation, or you might call it being entrepreneurial -- doing the most with whatever resources you have at hand -- or you can say it's about having true grit: to me these all describe the same worldview, one where effort does indeed equal results, where you can make your own luck, where putting forth that extra bit of energy is what elevates the winners. For folks engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, it's an essential attitude and skillset to carry in your quiver.
Back to the Nissan DeltaWing, which will go down as my big point of obsession and inspiration for the year 2012. Here's what happened to the DeltaWing on Wednesday while practicing for this weekend's 1000 mile endurance race:
In case you're wondering, getting clobbered with a 7G hit by an errant green Porsche 911 (not a good example of how to drive a 911, by the way) officially qualifies as an unexpected speedbump in the best-laid plans. Fortunately only the car was hurt. But, the car was a wreck, and qualifying was only a day away. What do you do? The DeltaWing crew decided to 31-knot it with a truly epic repair session. They worked through the entire night and the next day brought forth a rejuvenated DeltaWing car:
In the spirit of Arleigh Burke, I hereby propose the addition of a new verb to the English language: deltawing.
Deltawing. As in, "Things went totally wrong, but we pulled the team together and decided to deltawing it". Or, "I didn't think I had anything left, but I deltawinged, and that saw me through." To deltawing means to stick with your goals and beliefs even in the face of great adversity and calamity. It's a verb which all innovators need to know how to put into action.
If you're trying to be innovative, you will fail. You will fail many times. How will you respond? Your only choice has got to be to deltawing.
“I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace and propelled by compressible flow.”
Earlier this week I moderated a discussion with Stefan Bradl and Lucio Cecchinello titled Embracing Risk in the Pursuit of Victory. Bradl and Lucio were appearing as part of the Open Garage series hosted by Reilly Brennan, Executive Director of the innovative Revs Program at Stanford. Bradl is a rookie phenomenon in the MotoGP motorcycle racing series. Cecchinello, also a successful motorcycle racing champion, is an entrepreneur who is CEO of LCR Honda MotoGP, the racing team that enters a motorcycle for Bradl in MotoGP.
Live discussions are always an exercise in improvisation and serendipity. As a moderator, you can frame up a discussion, but you've got to go where the ideas take you, and weave a narrative from there. Panel discussions are jazz where as a moderator your job is to lay out the chord changes and roll with whatever comes along. Most "sage on stage" presentations are something more akin to a piano recital, less sponteaneous but beautiful in a linear way.
The point of view I brought to the discussion was that -- for racers and innovators both -- risk is not something to be avoided at all costs, but is instead a source of great opportunity. Whether you're probing the limit of adhesion on a MotoGP bike through the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, or figuring out how to design a technology to a place where it is both delightful and business viable, you're pushing for something remarkable. You can't be remarkable without taking a risk, whether that risk is financial, technological, emotional, or personal (or all of the above). Healthy opportunity, in many ways, is proportional to smart risk-taking.
I'd like express my deep thanks to Reilly for asking me to moderate this discussion, which was a big honor for me. And many thanks to all the team at LCR, who are an extremely friendly, fun, good-hearted bunch of hard-core racers.
Principle 2: See and hear with the mind of a child
Principle 6: Life live at the intersection
Principle 20: Be remarkable
Inspired by the remarkable dancers of Shiro-A
I had a deep emotional response while watching this video about the DeltaWing project.
If you've ever struggled to bring something new and innovative to life, you know what everyone in this video is going through. What they've accomplished is immensely impressive.
Toward the end of the video, Dr. Don Panoz is wearing a shirt with the following aphorism emblazoned on its back:
The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.
Amen, Dr. Panoz. Amen. I think myself very lucky to be part of the team at IDEO, and there are very few teams or organizations I would consider signing up to belong to, but the DeltaWing project is certainly one of them. I once again tip my hat to Ben Bowlby and everyone there who has worked so hard to make a clever vision into a stunning reality.
Innovating is tough. Talking about it is easy. Doing it to the hilt and creating a true gamechanger is beyond hard. Respect.
Principle 2: See and hear with the mind of a child
Principle 6: Live life at the intersection
This wonderful video was created by Kevin Kelly
"Don’t divide the world into 'creative' and 'non-creative'. Let people realize they are naturally creative ... When people regain that confidence, magic happens."
- David Kelley
Earlier this year at the TED conference I had the wonderful experience of watching my teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend David Kelley give the talk above. It's about building confidence in one's ability to be creative. It's also about empathy, courage, leadership, and choosing to strive to live the life you want to live.
I hope you enjoy listening to David's thoughts on creative confidence as much as I did.
Innovating upon something already in existence requires change. The road to that change can be faster or slower, but there's always a journey to be had. If you're lucky, it may be an easy path you take, but it's much more likely to be one with lots of obstacles, dips, and dead ends along the way.
When I look back upon the things I've embarked upon to create change in the world, one thing stands out: the journey always took much longer than projected. If that journey was something akin to climbing a big mountain, I spent more time navigating the approach to the base of the mountain than summiting the peak, if you will. I rarely if ever planned for this "flat" part of the trip. The mountain peak is so seductive, so sexy -- it's where you want to end up, so you focus on what it will take to scale the verticals. But as it turns out, it's the long walk to the base of the mountain that's the hardest part. It's about perseverance more than strength.
Innovating something, be it a stand alone product or a massively interconnected system, involves many more days of getting to the peak than it does scaling the peak. This is because there are so many pitfalls along the way -- so it always feels like you're climbing something. Climbing a mountain face or a well, it feels the same: steep, slippery, and difficult. As it turns out, a lot of that climbing happens because you've stumbled into a crevasse or a well, and you have to find your way out before you can get back to your mission of walking to the mountain. It can't be helped; if you're innovating, by definition you're venturing out through the dark unknown, so of course you'll stumble and fall and have to pick yourself up.
While there were lots of hard points, in any difficult project I've done there was also more joy and camaraderie to be had along the way than I ever dared hope for. This is key. Whether it's Orville and Wilbur figuring out how to make man fly, or it's you tweaking the messaging on a web site in the middle of the night, you need the help of friends and colleagues. Not only can they help pull you out of a crevasse, but they can help you see that you weren't yet on the mountain. And that you need to keep walking.
Understanding the difference between a mountain and a well? Priceless.
The essay I wrote for RACER magazine is now available online.
You can find it here on pp. 34-35. The topic is Game Changers. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I think it's one of the better things I've written on the subject of innovating. Here's an excerpt:
How to spot one? Beware of self-proclaimed game changers; most are just marketing hype. Real game changers trigger resistance from competitors and rule makers. Or, like Jim Hall's fan car, they violate unspoken taboos...
I hope you like it! Thanks.
"The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up wehen we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet, steady dignity that simply refuses to give in... Courage. We all suffer. Keep going."
In 1992 I received a direct mailing talking about a new magazine called RACER. The mission of RACER, to provide a window into the world of racing, was tremendously exciting to me. As a mechanical engineering student who wanted to become an engineer with Penske Racing or McLaren, it was very difficult to find reputable sources of information about what was going in the world of racing and racecars. I didn’t own a TV, the internet at that time was about very bare text message boards, and the few European racing magazines were too expensive for me to contemplate subscribing to. I would read as much as I could for free when I had the time to hang out at a local café and bookstand (which was not very often), so as a result I barely knew anything. Case in point, when I applied for a job at Rahal Racing, tracking down their address in Ohio required an entire afternoon of card catalog searching at Stanford’s Green Library. I kid you not. Things have changed in the past 20 years.
I became a charter subscriber. RACER went on to blow my mind as it expanded my horizons. To feed my design engineering curiosity, it featured achingly gorgeous monthly photographic profiles of important race cars. It helped me understand the complex strategies – sporting, business and organizational – which drive successful racing teams. From a people perspective, RACER gave me insights into the thought and behavioral patterns of legendary design innovators such as Dan Gurney, Adrian Newey, Gordon Murray, and many more.
Above all, RACER’s crisp editorial point of view helped me crystallize a deep belief in the power of acting over just talking, the value of making decisions, and the stark reality that in order to win a race, you have to first show up and start. It made a big impact on this impressionable college kid. For those of you who don’t know much about racing (or perhaps don’t care – which is fine, just keep reading metacool!), being a racer is a lot like being an entrepreneur (and most racers are entrepreneurs): it means making the most of what you’ve got, and putting everything you’ve got into what you’re doing. It’s about being remarkable. It’s a world where, in the words of racer Roger Penske, effort does indeed equal results.
RACER celebrated its 20th anniversary this past weekend with a big party (it was a good one, I must say!) at the Long Beach Grand Prix. And as part of this big milestone, it is being relaunched as RACER 3.0, with a new aesthetic approach and a big new attitude – with a bunch of future innovations in the works. The extremely gnarly relaunch cover of the May 2012 issue is pictured above, and it features my favorite new race car, the Delta Wing. Does that look killer, or what? The theme of the issue is “Game Changers”, and I’m deeply honored to have written its introductory essay. Thank you, RACER.
If you happen to already subscribe to RACER, I hope you like what I wrote. If you don't subscribe, please do! Here's a link to an online version of the article.
For now, let’s all get back to making a dent in the universe! WFO, people, WFO. Be a racer!
Here's a great look at the Jeep Mighty FC concept car, as told by its designers. Though this director's commentary doesn't illuminate much of the actual design process which led to the creation of the Might FC, it does a wonderful job of showing us the importance of identifying and holding a strong point of view as you make your way through that process.
In particular, I like this quote from Mark Allen, the lead designer:
Although we work for a very, very large corporation, and you'd think there would be board meetings and all this stuff, really it's a few guys just saying, "I want to build this because it's cool." To have that kind of flexibility in our corporation is great. I've got great support to do this, and the vehicles come out very, very pure in thought. They're not watered down through a bunch of meetings and decisions. There's really never any regrets when we get it done.
Not only is it critical to establish a solid point of view, it is essential to trust the people who hold that vision to do the right thing. A team of talented designers can create a compelling concept car like the Mighty FC. An extremelky well-structured and led product development organization like Apple can take the vision of talented designers all the way to market.
I love this design. I hope they find a way to make it -- it would be such a boon to the Jeep marque.
"There's a huge, gratifying feeling on the rare occasions that any of us come up with an inspiration to do something innovative. The personal rewards, and just the feeling, is enormously good. Part of what gave us the ability to be creative is the old thing - -necessity is the mother of invention -- and the passion and curiosity about why things work. It's about the ability to picture what's going on and discuss things with other people who have thought about it longer than you have, or have a different approach... It's a fun thing to do, for sure. You appreciate other people doing things when you read the history books. If you feel that in some small way you can join this illustrious bunch of people who have done things, it's worth having a go at it."
The term "concept car" is used in many industries today to refer to a prototype that's meant to test a marketing concept. Obviously the origin of the term is in the auto industry. Under the guidance of design maestro Harley Earl, General Motors refined the art of the concept car in the 1950's, using one-off prototypes to test and showcase styling "trends" or upcoming technical innovations. A concept car is something for which the user experience has been fully fleshed out, but the supporting technical detailing may or may not be there, and certainly all the layers that make up a whole product -- sales, marketing, support, service -- are nonexistent. A concept car is usually built as a one-off or in extremely low volumes. These days if you were to bring a model -- working or not -- of a future personal computer to a tradeshow or demo opportunity, you might refer to it as a "concept car".
Last week Jeep released a concept car called the Mighty FC Concept. As you can see, it's very gnarly:
If you're the kind of person who dreams of parking a VW DOKA TriStar Syncro in your garage, as I write this you're probably creating an online petition to convince the powers that be at Jeep to put the Mighty FC into production. For everyone else, please allow me to explain why this particular Jeep concept car has created a ton of buzz out among the forward-control cognoscenti, to wit:
So Jeep is going to build it, right? Who knows. Actually, probably not. I doubt that the business case for the Mighty FC would work out, and it's not clear there's actually a market for an off-road capable pickup -- it would likely appeal to that small segment of the auto-buying public which fancies vehicles such as the Citroen Mehari, BMW M Coupe, and Cadillac CTS-V wagon... eccentric cars, all, but memorable ones, too. To market it would be really great for Jeep's brand.
And therein lies my beef with concept cars in general. If you have a great idea, and if you believe in it, should you concept car it? I'd say no. If you aren't sure about it, there are other ways to gain confidence in its validity beyond showing your concept in public. And, if its such a great idea, why show all of your competitors what you're working on? Why tell them that you've had a great insight? And why alert the marketplace to an upcoming innovation? A couple of decades ago, Apple used to show lots of "concept cars" of future computing devices, and to what end? Very few of them shipped, and those that did were either met with disappointment -- because the reality couldn't compete with the concept -- or they drove down sales of existing product, which is not the best way to get the most out of your brand.
But perhaps the biggest reason not to show concept cars you don't ever intend to produce is that you disappoint your biggest fans, those net promoters who would do anything for, and tell anyone anything positive about, your brand. These are the folks who write blog posts like "I Am So Excited About The Jeep Mighty FC Concept I Think I Might Die", or who spend hours photoshopping your PR photos to show the rest of us what a four-door or full-van version might look like, or who write headlines in national newspapers asking "Has jeep created the most interesting concept of 2012?". Do you really want to excite these folks, only to disappoint them over the longer term? My gut says no. Product brands aren't like perennially losing baseball teams whose fans have no alternative to their hometown monopolistic losers. Instead, it's pretty easy to switch when you stop meeting my expectations. Better to surprise and delight me with a real product I never anticipated, than to tease me with vaporware that we both know you'll never ship.
The whole point of having a strong point of view is to ship something remarkable. And the reason we're here is to ship. If you do have that strong point of view, believe in it first, and commit yourself to shipping. Then -- and only then -- show off your concept car.
This excellent interview with Professor William Sahlman covers many great points about innovating. Please watch, listen, and enjoy.
Say no to sarcasm. Yes, it's okay as a funny aside during a dinner conversation with people you know well. But it doesn't belong anywhere else, and certainly not in a creative workplace. Categorically ban it from any place or space where you're endeavoring to bring something cool and new to life.
Sarcasm brings with it many ills. If I'm listening to your concept for a marketing tagline, and I sarcastically respond "That's great", I've just cut you down in public, which is not helping you get to a better place. And now you no longer trust me as a generative, open-minded person. Worse yet, the next time we work together, you've learned not to take my utterances at face value. So the next time I say "hey, that's so cool!", you're going to waste energy and time processing that statement to figure out my intent, as oppposed to taking it as a microburst of positive energy which helps push you forward.
We're all here to be remarkable. A broad commitment to being remarkable reduces the friction, smooths out the bumps, and amps up the energy we all need to continue bringing cool things to life. Sarcasm is friction. Plain old nasty, energy-robbing, friction.
Innovating is already so hard -- so why add any additional things to get in your way, right? Just say no.
One of the most beautiful thing about the Goldbergs is that Bach uses it as a canvas in which to draw this seemingly infinite world of possibility. He grabs from everybody; he basically does a mashup. He does things in the style of the French overture, in the style of different dances; he does lamenting — from the smallest to the largest, from the happiest to the saddest.
I see a strong philosophical link here to Tom Waits and Ice Cube. So much of the creatvity that fuels innovation is about connecting the dots between disparate sources of inspiration. It's about sampling from here, from there, and synthesizing those pieces to create a new, innovative whole. When you really examine them, many breakthroughs in the worlds of products, services, economics, and politics look a lot like what is happening with musical innovation, where it's about assorted bits and pieces being combined to create something which feels totally new at the time but which with time and perspective can be traced back to its component sources.
Principle 2: See and hear with the mind of a child
Principle 6: Live life at the intersection
Principle 8: Most new ideas aren't
Principle 19: Have a point of view
My colleague Paul Bennett produces one of my favorite collections of thinking, a blog he calls The Curiosity Chronicles. Over the past few weeks here at metacool I've been riffing on a bunch of ideas and thoughts rattling around my head and heart on the subject of leading, being a leader, and leadership (of which three the first is by far the most important...). To that end, Paul's latest post Curious About... Role Models really got my attention. Here's an excerpt:
To me, both of these examples share something in common. They are of women, leading in that unique way that women leaders excel: by sharing emotional stories and personally connecting in the first case, and by doing rather than endlessly debating in the second. It brought to mind British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous line: “If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.”
And here's another:
Being inspired by others is one of the most important aspects of leadership in my opinion, and having role models is a way to have something to constantly strive for. And work towards. It keeps us grounded and reminds us that we are all human. Whether it’s your mother, a young women who moved you with the story of her journey from village to boardroom or a mother who just happens to be digging a vegetable plot for her children to inspire the rest of the nation to eat better in the most important garden in the world, nothing helps us retain a sense of self better than realizing that there are other people out there in the world that we can learn from.
How might we all learn to be ever curious, like Paul? As he says, you could do worse than to follow your role models, or to go find some if you if they're not there yet for you. For instance, for me, when I need a reminder to feel the confidence to express myself first and analyze things later, I watch and read about Shinya Kimura. I'm hoping to visit his shop in the next few months. Finding inspiration in others is a surprisingly effective way to let yourself inspire others.
"Coming up with ideas is interesting and indefinable, isn't it? The brain is a funny thing. An idea often emerges in the shower, or during a walk. Your brain has been ticking away and the idea just bubbles up. Occasionally you feel, 'God, I've gone dry.' It's like writers' block. Shortly before the launch of a new car, when I've used all my existing ideas, I think, 'Now what?' But running the car produces new ideas as you understand what you've created."
The Delta Wing. It looks like a rocket, but it's a car. It also represents a fundamental, albeit still potential, paradigm shift in our conception of what a racing car can be. I love the way it looks, and am even more excited about what it represents.
For students of the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, the key question isn't "will it win?", but "how did it come to be?". Hopefully someday someone will write a book on the story of the Delta Wing. For now there's Wikipedia and this good Popular Mechanics article for those of you interested in the backstory on this amazing car.
Because I don't know enough yet about the how on this one, let's focus on the what. If the Delta Wing were a movie and you were the director, here are the characters you'd ask central casting to deliver to your set to weave a compelling tale of daring innovation:
The Ace Technologist: Ben Bowlby is the technical mastermind behind the Delta Wing and the leader of a spectacularly talented and experienced design team. I admire the elegance of his design vision, and the way in which he went back to first principles in order to reach for a new outcome. The Delta Wing effectively performs as well as cars having double the horsepower. That kind of elegant efficiency is what we need in the world today. Efficiency is sexy, a notion that some wayward manufacturers would do well to rediscover.
The Visionary Entrepreneurs: two business-savvy racers were instrumental in making the Delta Wing happen. Chip Ganassi provided financial backing for the first prototype of the Delta Wing, which was not accepted by the racing series it was designed for (see The Enlightened Incubator entry below). Duncan Dayton then took the ball and ran with it, recasting the Delta Wing as a Le Mans competitor, and practising some magic to build a coalition capable of developing, building, testing, and ultimately running a competitive new racecar design -- quite a task. Dayton epitomizes the truest sense of entrepreneurship: making things happen by making the smartest use of the resources you have at hand. Dr. Don Panoz, an entrepreneur's entrepreneur, and Scott Atherton also played pivotal roles in the genesis of the Delta Wing. And last but not least, kudos to Nissan for having the guts to engage with this endeavor as a motor supplier and sponsor. Their commitment to innovating makes me want that GT-R even more.
A Team of Artists Who Ship: The Delta Wing is built by the heroes at All American Racers (AAR). AAR is hallowed ground in the racing world, as place where heroes like Dan Gurney and Phil Remington still walk the halls. Over its long history, AAR has proven to be one of the most innovative institutions based on US soil. I don't know about you, but the idea that the master maker Phil Remington had a hand in the creation of the Delta Wing, well, it sends shivers down my spine.
The Enlightened Incubator: you can't run a race car without a sanctioning body to hold the race. At the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race, there are 55 positions available for race cars to compete. Early on in the Delta Wing venture, Duncan Dayton and company secured the 56th place on the grid from the sanctioning body for Le Mans, the Automobile Clube de l'Quest. While the Delta Wing won't be contesting the Le Mans race for points, it will be an integral part of the racing field, and will live out of the "56th garage" at the Le Mans circuit. This idea of the 56th garage being available represents highly enlightened thinking when it comes to the art and science of innovation. I've written before here on the vital importance of designating a place for the people in your organization to fail. And while I hope the Delta Wing has a successful race at Le Mans, no matter what happens they will have learned a substantial amount, and the cause of innovation will be served. Next year's car will be that much better due to the enlightened incubation of Garage 56.
Professionals to Get the Job Done: at the track, the Delta Wing will be run by the storied Highcroft Racing team. Though most of the focus in racing is on the driver, it is actually one of the ultimate team sports, especially in the kind of endurance racing the Delta Wing is designed for. Ideas are one thing, executing against them is quite another. It takes a village.
A Brave Protagonist: and then there's the human in the hot seat, Marino Franchitti. Race drivers are only as good as their last race -- it's an incredibly competitive sport, and there's a line of drivers out the door waiting to take over your spot. That's why I admire Marino Franchitti's willingness to take on the reputational and career risk of driving not just a new car, but a new paradigm. Unfortunately, the world of racing does not operate by the rule of Silicon Valley, and failures are not celebrated as points of learning. On the other hand, someone had to pilot the Wright Flyer, and now Orville's name is one for the ages. Hats off to Marino, and here's to him showing us how fast this thing can really go, WFO. He has guts.
One Sexy Beast: from an aesthetic standpoint, I think the Delta Wing rocks. It looks wicked - why be beautiful when you could be interesting? Of course, I've been accused of having a rather unmainstream view of car aesthetics (here, here, and here, for example), but I call 'em like I see 'em. This thing grabs your attention, and keeps it. I believe a whole generation of 8-year-old kids are going to fall in love with automobiles because of the Delta Wing. And here's a suggestion to the fine folks at Polyphony and Nissan: create a digital version of the Delta Wing and let the rest of us drive it virutally in Gran Turismo 5. It'll do wonders for the Nissan brand, and it will create a pull effect on the conservative world of racing: we really want to see you professionals race the cars we love driving online.
To sum it up, if you're going to shift a paradigm, you could do worse than to try and do it with a really sexy beast like this one, but you'd better have the entire innovation ecosystem in place, too. Enjoy the photos and videos below.
My friend and colleague Bob Sutton wrote an interesting post last week on the topics of good bosses, FUBAR, and SNAFU. Having personally contributed to a few SNAFU situations (honestly, how could you not if you've ever shipped anything real?), and living a large part of my life these days helping others work through situations mired in the muck of FUBAR, I really appreciated his post. It's one that anyone engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life should read. Here's an excerpt:
But it is impossible to be a leader without facing stretches where you and your followers are overwhelmed with the complexity and uncertainty of it all. When this happens, to maintain everyone’s spirits keep them moving forward, and to sustain collective stamina, sometimes it is best to embrace the mess--at least for a while.
This challenge reminded me of two of the most famous and fun World War II expressions:
SNAFU -- situation normal, all f**ked-up
FUBAR -- f**ked-up beyond all recognition
One CEO I know... uses the distinction between the two to help decide whether a "mess" requires intervention, or it is best to leave people alone for awhile to let them work through it.
He asks his team, or the group muddling through mess: "Is it a snafu or fubar situation? " He finds this to be a useful diagnostic question because, if it is just usual normal level confusion, error, and angst that is endemic to uncertain and creative work, then it is best to leave people alone and let hem muddle forward. But if it is fubar, so fucked-up that real incompetence is doing real damage, the group is completely frozen by fear, good people are leaving or suffering deeply, customers are fleeing, or enduring damage is being done to a company or brand -- then it is time to intervene.
I love this distinction between SNAFU and FUBAR, and as a leader of, and contributor to, teams engaging in the creation of new things, I find it really useful, on several levels.
First, if I tried to deal with every FUBAR and SNAFU situation on my radar, I would go completely batty. As Bob also writes, indifference can be as important as passion, and knowing what not to engage in helps save your passion for the things that really matter to you and the people you work with. Focusing on FUBARs seems like a great way to spend your time as a manager.
Second, what I judge as SNAFU may not be SNAFU to those really close to the matter, such as the core design team working on a project. When exposed to the chaos that is a design effort in the middle of things, it is hard as an outsider to feel as much confidence about where things are going as the folks who are working on it each day. In those situations, you have to go more by their body language than by the content, as the tendency at these points as an outsider is to see a lot of SNAFU, perhaps because it is. But experience says that the SNAFU feeling may actually be part and parcel of the design process; if you're not feeling it you may not be pushing enough. And calling SNAFU on a team may actually have an effect opposite to what you desire, as imposing your opinion on folks who have the experience and wherewithal to work out their own problems is as sure a ways as any to sap morale, destroy confidence, and extinguish the spark of intrinsic motivation. As Bob says, better to let people work through their own problems, so long as you have confidence that the time, resources, and talent are there to make it happen.
FUBAR, on the other hand, demands action. These situations cause damage to brands, organizations, careers, and sometimes even people. It's a sign of good leadership when they are identified honestly, and dealt with effectively, even if it means long, difficult road to reach a solution
So, in a long-winded way, I agree with Bob. But, I do think there's more to this story. There's another World War II acronym called SUSFU, and it is some ways the most pernicous of this trio of f-bomb acronyms. Here's what it stands for:
SUSFU: situation unchanged, still f**ked up
Of all the "FU" family of acronyms, SUSFU is the one that really gets my goat. SUSFU is the groundhog day version of FUBAR, in that it invovles something that's a mess, but which somehow has been left unresolved so long as to become routine, even invisible. At one point a SUSFU was a FUBAR, but maybe it didn't get fixed, and then people got scared to deal with it, and then they chose to live with it rather than try to challenge it. This can happen in one's personal life, in a long-lived team, certainly in an organization of any size, and especially in society. Think of big wrongs which existed in our own culture for many years -- such as limited voting rights -- and in each case you'll see as SUSFU loitering around the premises. Global warming is a SUSFU. The lack of vocational training and apprenticeships in this country for the mechanically-minded is a SUSFU. That lackluster loss leader in your product lineup is also a SUSFU.
FUBAR's are usually self-evident and feel like a crisis to most observers, so taking the responsibility to express the leadership to resolve them, while challenging and hard, is a relatively straightforward decision. A SUSFU, on the other hand, is likely to be flying under the radar to the part where it's become part of everyday life, so remedying it will demand the vision, sense of humor, and fortitude of Brad Pitt's character in Moneyball. SUSFU's are resilient SOB's, rising zombie-like to thwart all your best efforts to move forward. The upside is that the payoff for righting a SUSFU can be enormous. To be sure, slaying a SUSFU may be a quixotic endeavor, but in my opinion we need more people to take up the cause of moving past them.
Here's my challenge to you: in the next year, could you identify one SUSFU in your life and then try to make it better? Imagine the the collective impact of thousands of us unf**king all those SUSFU's. Pretty f**king awesome, no? Go for it. JFDI.
... you can't be the leader you want and ought to be. Or more than a million.
Here's my personal short list:
For me, and I'd wager for you, this is all bunk. We're not born ready, and if we can be honest with ourselves, we'll likely never achieve a state of true mastery of anything. But life is about getting on with things, because life, after all, is finite. A lot of rewards go to those willing to embrace mediocrity and get on with life. But fear has a way of getting in the way. By acknowledging the fear we feel, and not ignoring it, but choosing to act because of it, we give ourselves -- and those around us -- a gift of inestimable value.
Because, for me, when I'm telling myself all of those "I'm not..." phrases from the list above, that's when I know I'm really on to something. The fear I feel is a signal that what I'm contemplating not doing is really worth doing. And to not take the risk of action is to shirk the responsibility of acting when I'm able to act, of delaying or nulifying the value of the gifts I can bring to world. We owe it to ourselves -- and to each other -- to go for it, to try to help someone, to make something, to move things forward whenever we can.
I'm really passionate about education, particularly when it comes to helping people learn how to become makers and creators. That's why I'm currently spending a fair bit of my time outside of IDEO teaching and advising at the Stanford d.school, Harvard Business School (as an Entrepreneur in Residence), and at the MIT Media Lab.
It's a cliche, but when you hang around smart, motivated makers, you learn as much as you teach. It's particularly gratifying to help someone discover that they're indeed passionate about the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, and then to help them figure out how to build an existence around doing it. In the process, I believe, they become better entrepreneurs, builders, creators -- people who get stuff done and help build a better society for all of us. I just wish this stuff could happen earlier in people's lives, that more kids and young adults had access not just to the training they need, but to a world view where they hear "You can do it!" much more often than "No you can't." or "Who do you think you are?".
I was blessed to grow up in a household where this stuff was in the air. I took it for granted that people built stuff and that engineering, creativity, art, and the sciences were things worth investing your life in. After last year's TED I singled out Salman Khan's talk on education as one that knocked my hat in the creek. At this year's TED I saw a live demonstration which made me think about the awesome creative experiences I had as a kid which set me up to do the things I enjoy doing today. As it so happens, there's a brilliant video of that same demo I participated in at TED, and you can see it right here -- it's the first release done as part of TED's new education initiative called TED-Ed:
Is that cool, or what? From thinking of the brain as a lump of fat, to seeing cockroaches chilling out, to cleverly utilizing the cockroach leg to literally see how a neuron fires, it's science made tangible. And I'd wager it's a lot stickier than anything you saw in high school.
Here's the TED-Ed manifesto:
TED-Ed's mission is to capture and amplify the voices of great educators around the world. We do this by pairing extraordinary educators with talented animators to produce a new library of curiosity-igniting videos. A new site, which will launch in early April 2012, will feature these new TED-Ed Originals as well as some powerful new learning tools.
It's going to be really cool! Hopefully this initiative will help lots of kids (and maybe some adults, too!) see how they might learn to creatively express themselves across many realms of human knowledge. Excellent!
This talk by Bryan Stevenson was my favorite of TED 2012. It is an elegant call for action which expertly appeals to our senses of logic, ethics, and emotion. You may or may not agree with all of Stevenson's arguments, but I would encourage you to listen to this talk all the way through, as I think it works on many levels. As I tweeted on my way out of the TED auditorium just after this talk had finished, "Bryan Stevenson blew my mind, engaged my heart, and inspired my soul."
And, for those of us interested in making a dent in the universe, his speech is a mandatory lesson in the art of communication. To be able to speak this convincingly, this naturally, this logically, without benefit of notes or slides or videos, is master class in public speaking. Wow.
Bryan Stevenson is an innovator. He looks at our status quo and says "we can do better than this". Innovating is hard. Most of the time it's easy -- and even fun -- to start something, but it's hard to finish. But in the case of the things that Stevenson pursues, I would argue that it's hard to even start, let alone finish. As he says in the speech, changing fundamental aspects of the way our world works will make you tired, tired, tired. But he is an exemplary study in what it means to be brave, brave, brave.
Whatever you're doing, wherever you may be, keep your eyes on the prize, and hold on. Be courageous.
Where do great songs come from? A great question, to which I must ask: what's a sleestak?
Every once in a while, I become obsessive about a special tune. Case in point, I've probably listened to Tower of Power's Knock Yourself Out several thousand times. When I encounter a piece I like, I need to listen to it over and over and over to unlock its secrets. It drives my wife nuts.
Here's my latest obsession, a tune called Cloisonné:
Readers of metacool will know that I deeply admire They Might Be Giants. Not only is their cover of Tubthumping the official anthem of all of us trying to make a dent in the universe, but over and over they create some amazing pieces of music which are highly creative, playful, and original. Art. They are also a case study in group creativity, having produced a stream of consistent innovation over a period of 30 years. How many individuals -- let alone groups or organization or companies -- can lay claim to a track record like that?
Back to Cloisonné. In the following passage, John Flansburgh talks about the creative process that lead to tales of second-story sleestaks breathing on his dice:
The story behind the song Cloisonne is pretty discombobulated. In an experimental period of putting Join Us together we created a series of electronic beats entirely without song ideas behind them. The idea was to make the tiniest drum machine-based beats that were still exciting. I probably spent twelve hours just editing and tweaking these sounds with no particular song in mind. The lyric is kind of from a Rat Pack point of view--like the guy singing is really into his own swagger, but he's also kind of out of date and out of it. The idea of not knowing what a sleestak is does come from my real life--I am actually exactly a year too old to have watched that show. Having to have Land of the Lost explained to you is slightly undignified, but thus is the fate of those who get old.
This version of the song is essentially our live band arrangement of the song. John L. is playing a bass clarinet, and we took Stan Harrison's inspired, highly chromatic sax intro and outro and mangled it in our fashion. Our apologies to Stan!
Personally, I like the Stan Harrison version on the album more than this one, but that's because the saxophone arrangement reminds me of The Borneo Horns, whose leader is arguably the greatest saxophonist in the world, Lenny Pickett, who played that incredibly gnarly solo on Knock Yourself Out, and who collaborated with Stan Harrison to create the Borneo Horns. And yes, I've listed to my precious Boreno Horns CD thousands of times... but enough of this beeswax, let's get back to our conversation about innovation and creativity.
Perhaps the astounding fecundity of imagination presented to us by They Might Be Giants can be attributed to several of my innovation principles. To wit:
By the way, the generation of this blog post required nine spins of Cloisonné and another ten of Tubthumping.
What's a sleestak? Yeah, I had to ask, too.
The genesis of these thoughts on marketing from Mike Markkula are detailed on page 78 of Walter Isaacson's intriguing biography of Steve Jobs. In their clarity, simplicity, and actionability, they are stunning. As a marketer, I take three lessons from them.
First, they are about people. Markets are made up of individuals. When striving to bring something new and cool to life, we're much better off imagining the life of a single customer than we are trying to disaggregate and disambiguate mountains of anonymized market data. A holistic understanding of the customer experience you wish to enable is a great way to start creating mind-blowing products. As a way of being, empathy is to product developers what The Force is to Jedi Knights.
Second, they are focused on the market. Surely great marketing is always about the market? Not always, and not so often: in my experience, many marketers worry more about communicating with each other internally than they do with real people in the marketplace. They spend more time reading reports created by others than they do learning from the market directly. They don't use products created by competitors, nor do they try to experience their channels in the way that an end user would. They may or may not love their product segment -- I mean, can you imagine Steve Jobs hawking anything other than stuff he believed in? Significantly, none of Markkula's dictums explicitly mention the internal functions or structure of the enterprise. Granted, it could be argued that "Focus" is about both the internal choices an organization makes about what not to do, as well as on all the market-facing features, line extensions, and complementary offerings it chooses not to invest in.
Third, they focus on the big picture and on the smallest details. Yes, you need to understand where the market is going and how culture, politics, and macro economic trends may influence your future state in three to five years. But you also must appreciate the nuances of texture, smell, form, sound, proportions, and color. The realm of the visceral is always there, our minds and hearts want things to feel good and true. Everything matters, and marketers (or designers, or businesspeople, or engineers -- it's all the same to me) ignore this truth at their peril.
Back on planet metacool, I believe the following innovation principles are at work in Markkula's document:
Principle 9: Killing good ideas is a good idea
Principle 20: Be remarkable